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In case you thought every independently-owned gay bar had shut its doors due to Covid, meet the persistent and visionary married couple behind Lambda Lounge — Harlem’s only African American owned LGBTQ lounge.
Charles Hughes and Richard Solomon are switched on and self-created Black entrepreneurs who are more than well aware of the importance of LGBTQ-owned nightlife spaces, LGBTQ spaces that welcome people of color, and Black-owned LGBTQ spaces.
After all, they came into each other's orbit at Chi Chi's — a West Village gay bar on historic Christoper Street that was welcoming of Black men in a way which wasn't and still isn't common in the Village and many of our "gay golden miles." After an unsuccessful appeal to keep its liquor license in 2010, Chi Chi's closed; and we've all seen the shuttering of LGBTQ bars across the nation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
But this leaves even less opportunities for Black queer folks to party in public. Even today, when Hughes and Solomon go out to other establishments it is clear the venue is tolerating them for the night — and that's all.
Gay spaces are important for both Hughes and Solomon. Hughes grew up in the South and struggled to hide his sexuality from his family. Solomon was the first man he brought home to meet them.
Solomon, a New Yorker, had it a little easier with his family. "I had the kind of mom who was like, 'OK, he's wearing my heels...' When I finally went to her with it she said, 'Listen, I've just been waiting for you to say something...' My father is a Jehovah's Witness so it was a little rocky with our relationship, there came the whole 'abomination' thing, and by the time he came around it was really too late, so I don't really have a relationship with my father, it's just me and my mother. But coming out for me was easy. Unfortunately not a lot of people get to experience that. But for me it was, OK I'm out."
And so the Greek Lambda symbol is important to them because they felt that "Rainbow" was a little on the nose. Hughes and Solomon wanted to reach back further and they discovered the history of the Lambda symbol during the immediate post-Stonewall era to signify gay liberation.
"It was kind of like a secret fraternity during that time, which was really dope to me," says Solomon.
"Lambda to me means family," says Hughes. "A unity. When people come in here you pretty much know everybody's names from security to the host to the bartender. It's a gay Cheers. I enjoy it, even though I'm the owner. We talk to each other the same."
When Hughes and Solomon got together, neither had experience in the nightclub business as anything other than as patrons. But both agreed that a nightclub held a certain attraction for gay men as a "home away from home." They especially wanted a relaxed space where queer people of color could come and be themselves.
But how that came about was circuitous.
First came their vodka brand, Lambda Vodka, a premium spirit that is served in their establishment and used in its signature cocktails. But when Hughes and Solomon started out with the brand they found it to be a mammoth task, from dealing with distilleries to distributors. And when they couldn't get a lot of traction with their vodka in an oversaturated market, someone suggested to them, "Why don't you open a bar and sell your vodka to yourself?"
That worked. Because Lambda Vodka had helped to give them a foothold in Harlem where they had already built a following. When they settled on the premises on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd, they put special thought into the space and its appearance.
"We put a lot of time, effort and money into this space. All the art on the wall is from LGBTQ+ artists who gave it to us and designed the bottles as well."
And the venue has now grown to provide a stylish community space the welcomes different demographics of the community such as the ballroom scene, the drag scene, bears, lesbians, and more.
The bar had previously been 95% gay male but they've seen an increase in lesbians, trans folks, and even some straight women. "I remember once some straight men came in to play the video games and I remember they bought bottles and invited their girlfriends over. We get every walk of life who comes in here to have a good time," says Hughes.
While they have support now, getting the bar established wasn't easy — and when Covid happened and they had to close because the City of New York closed, they were down to their last few dollars when they launched a GoFundMe to try to bail themselves out. "We cried," says Hughes, now laughing a little painfully at the memory.
"We didn't want to ask people for assistance but we finally did it and once we did it for maybe a week, the City opened and we were able to open and generate some funds," says Hughes.
But they have done it all without investors so far. And they'd like to keep it that way so that they retain control. They have high praise for TD Bank who met with Hughes and Solomon and offered them a small business loan.
"They rolled out the red carpet," says Solomon, describing their meeting with the bank's LGBTQ Task Force, and the relationship continues to this day, with Hughes and Solomon featured in the bank's diversity ads.
It may have been a bumpy ride during the height of Covid, but the community has come out in support of the bar, regardless.
"The moment we opened the doors the line was around the corner," says Solomon. "And it was literally the last straw." They got a special permit from the city and were able to have their patrons out front, safely.
Today, the bar looks welcoming and stylish, with a very cool vibe—almost as if it was easy to set up. If it wasn't easy, at least it was right because they stayed true to the plan, despite the pushback they received when they announced they wanted to set up an LGBTQ+ bar in Harlem, or the doubts they faced about a vodka that was just for the LGBTQ community. But they were adamant about their vision.
People come to visit the lounge from all over: From Connecticut, from Jersey, and one night there was a man from Africa, who had researched the bar and sought it out when he came to New York.
"It was very emotional and humbling," says Hughes.
Humbling, maybe, but their vision is still grand, and that is to open a Lambda lounge in other metropolitan areas, starting with a megaclub version of the Lambda Lounge slated for Brooklyn, hopefully to open some time in 2022. Stay tuned!
The Lambda Lounge
2256 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., New York, NY 10027
Covid protocols: Proof of vaccination required upon entry
So how do we talk about transgender issues (even if you're not transgender)? There are three main things to remember when discussing transgender issues today, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of it all, let's keep these things in mind:
- It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
- There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
- Humanization should always be at the forefront of the conversation.
Before going into any conversation, no matter who it's with, try to keep these things in mind before you say something that may be inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. Even those with the best intentions can mess up; remember that it is always ok to admit when you do not know something or when you are wrong. That being said, let's get into it.
Transgender bathroom bills
So whether you choose to become a transgender activist or if you just want to be a better ally, this easy talking point will generally keep you in line and on the safe side of conversations while still putting forth the effort to encourage and better represent transgender rights.
Easy, all-around approach: This will work for almost all transgender issues and expand on the previous three rules; firstly, trans issues are not a debate. When discussing with someone, do not indulge in hypotheticals and always remember that transgender people are the exact same as anyone else, with the exact same feelings. Keeping this in mind, let's use the bathroom bill as an example. When discussing this issue, one should humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation. How does one employ this, though? Here is an example of how the conversation may go.
Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restroom, they will rape my daughters.
So this statement is clearly based on reactionary conversation perpetuated by anti-transgender ideals. This means that the person probably has a misconception of the history and oppression of transgender people. They also show concern for their family, which is a step towards humanization, despite the misconception. Here would be an appropriate response that helps to humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation.
Person 2: I don't want men in the women's restroom, either, which is why we need to make sure people who identify as women are using the women's restroom. There has never been a documented case where a transgender person has raped either a man or woman in a public restroom. And by forcing people to use a restroom that does not match their gender identity, it is promoting violence, as there is a strong history of physical violence against transgender people.
By only saying about three sentences, you are able to do the previous steps while discussing the issue in a civil manner without opening it up to debate. The key to this is to keep it short and sweet, stating both the truth and an ally's stance to support the transgender community. It's critical to make sure that what you say is backed with confidence, though, which is why this second approach is more encouraged as it gives the person speaking more confidence in their opinion.
The second approach: backed by facts and history, is the exact same as before, but this approach leaves the other person with more questions about their stance and gives them something to consider. Before going into this approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that you are not debating the existence of trans people, nor are you trying to change someone's mind. That is not the goal; the goal is simply to get your opinion across in a way that honors both the trans community and their ideas. Let's take the same example as before but add the new sentiments.
Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restrooms, they will rape my daughters.
Person 2: There has never been a documented case of a transgender person raping anyone in a public restroom, and the only published cases of such were proven to be false. Further, when people say things like this, they are perpetuating violence against transgender people, which has historically (and still does) oppressed and insight further physical violence against them. And honestly, the most common reason there is this stance is because the person typically does not know a trans person and may not even know a person who does know a trans person. But the truth is, they probably do. The probability is more likely that the transgender people around them are just not comfortable enough in the environment to come out and speak up about their gender identity. And yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite sad that some people's opinion does not invite civil discussion but instead incites violence.
This approach is more confrontational, which requires more confidence when using it in a conversation, but it still holds true to all of the previous rules and sentiments. It adds truth based on history, which is an important aspect of trans rights as it reminds people of where we were/ where we are currently with human rights. These ideas can be transferred to most all trans issues and will honor the transgender movement and your allyship. The last thing to keep in mind is the person or reason you are standing up for/with trans rights. The passion -the compassion will shine through in conversation if you keep your reasoning close to heart. Whether it is because of a transgender friend, family member, or just because of your moral values, if you put your emotions into your reasoning, it will create more compelling statements, especially if the statement is well versed with the facts.
Tips to Remember When Discussing Transgender Issues
- Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
- There is a rich history behind transgender issues
- Humanize transgender people through our words and ideas and don't forget to include:
- 3(b). The facts
- 3(c).The confidence
- 3(d). The inspiration behind the support for transgender rights
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Are you always wondering what to watch right now? These are some of the best LGBTQ+ movies streaming on Amazon Prime and available for rent on Amazon right now, and for good reason. They range from LGBTQ historical settings to romance to LGBTQ+ pure camp.
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Sook-hee is a pickpocket living in Japanese-occupied Korea and is hired by a con man to be the maid of heiress Lady Hideko and convince her to marry him. Hideko has been living under the tyranny of her uncle Kouzuki and desires to leave. While both women have reasons and ways to deceive each other, many plot twists will guide them to a path of satisfaction. This movie is an erotic, historical, psychological thriller, set beautifully in occupied Korea, that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It has won Best Film Not in the English Language at the 71st British Academy Film Festival and was directed by Park Chan-wook.
Duration: 144 minutes
Country: South Korea
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Mark is a gay activist living in the ‘80s when he notices that the police have stopped harassing LGBTQ+ people; the target has in fact changed, and now the police have moved on to miners’ strikes. Together with gay and lesbian friends, he arranges a bucket collection to help the miners at the London gay Pride. This movie has won the Queer Palm Award at Cannes in 2014; it has received a standing ovation as well. It is directed by Matthew Warchus and is based on a true story.
Duration: 120 minutes
Photo courtesy of Rai
Chiron lives in Liberty City, Miami, and is bullied by his schoolmates; he is found hiding one day by Juan, a drug dealer, who mentors him from then on. Chiron’s mother, Paula, is a drug addict, and often takes her frustration out on her child, assuming that she knows why he is bullied. It will be Juan to tell Chiron that being gay is nothing wrong, but as Chiron grows up he will have to face harder days than the ones in his childhood. This movie has won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, becoming the first LGBTQ+, all-Black cast movie to win an Oscar. It is directed by Barry Jenkins.
Duration: 111 minutes
Country: United States
Viola di mare (Purple Sea)
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Angela is a vivacious child in Sicily at the end of the 1800s; her father never wanted a daughter and tries to reform her through beating and controlling. But Angela is in love with Sara, and she will do whatever it takes to spend her life by the side of the woman she loves. This movie is heartbreaking at times, it sad and dramatic but also inspiring. It was nominated for two Nastro Argento Awards. The title refers to a type of fish, the Mediterranean rainbow wrasse, which is born female and turns male as it grows older. It is directed by Donatella Maiorca.
Duration: 105 minutes
But I Am a Cheerleader
But I'm a Cheerleader
Photo courtesy of Amazon
Megan is a high school senior cheerleader who is dating a boy named Jared when her parents and friends start suspecting she is a lesbian, with her being a vegetarian and interested in Melissa Etheridge. They stage an intervention calling ex-gay Mike, who works at a conversion therapy camp called True Directions, where Megan is taken and forced to confront her own sexual orientation. This movie is a camp statement, a funny take on a sad reality, and an invite to embrace oneself. It is directed by Jamie Babbit. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 85 minutes
Country: United States
Tell It to the Bees
Tell It to the Bees
Photo courtesy of the HotCorn
Lydia has an unsteady marriage and a young son when she becomes closer to the town’s doctor, Jean. Her son and Jean share an interest in common, which is beekeeping, and makes the move easier when Lydia starts staying at Jean’s. But they live in a Scottish village in the 1950s, and their bond is bound to be perceived wrongly. This movie is based on the book with the same title and stars Academy Award winner Anna Paquin. It is directed by Annabel Jankel. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 106 minutes
Photo courtesy of CarolFilm
Therese is an aspiring photographer, working as a sales clerk in Frankenberg's department store in Manhattan in the 1950s when she meets Carol, an older woman who is going through a divorce and is looking for a Christmas present for her child. The encounter leaves Therese with a pair of Carol’s gloves, which she intends to return, and an attraction towards this woman Therese cannot explain just yet. This movie is an LGBTQ+ cult film, nominated for six Academy Awards, and has been critically acclaimed over the years. It is directed by Todd Haynes. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 158 minutes
Country: United States
Photo courtesy of Youtube
Ben is a young bisexual man who doesn’t have a steady job or relationship; he is a hypochondriac that repeatedly goes through a set routine with his physician. When he meets Sam, he finally has the opportunity to share his trauma and feel understood. It was called by Indiewire 'A sexy and searching act of gay self-analysis'. It is directed by Matthew Fifer and Kieran Mulcare. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 93 minutes
Country: United States
Women and Sometimes Men
Women & Sometimes Men
Photo courtesy of Amazon
Sara calls off her engagement with a man when her feelings towards women become impossible to hide. She moves in with a friend and starts dating in the lesbian scene, trying to find a balance between what she’s always known and what her heart wants. This movie is campy and lighthearted. It is directed by Lesley Demetriades.
Duration: 87 minutes
Country: United States
To begin, a quick history lesson will keep you up to date with all the work transgender people have put forth in order to help Pride month happen in the first place. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights dates back further than one usually imagines but, in particular, is typically marked by the Stonewall Riots. Led by Marsha "Pay It No Mind" Johnson, a transgender woman of color who helped the New York activist scene for over 25 years, the Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 1969 in New York. Alongside Sylvia Riveria, a Latina trans woman, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson led one of the most important queer liberations in history.
While the Riots remain a huge moment in history, many often forget those who played front-facing roles in it. Marsha was only 23 years old at the time but was a fearless, ferocious, brave leader who tackled injustice head-on in the riots. In addition to this, she was also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a shelter for homeless transgender youth; she was a big activist for the BIPOC and LGBT+ community, and STAR was revolutionary in many ways, including being the first-ever LGBT+ shelter in North America which was also the first organization in the US to be run by a trans woman of color. Marsha's contributions toward the first Pride parade preceded it by an entire year- the first pride parades came a year after the stonewall riots to commemorate it. Her legacy will live on through her acts and is celebrated by members of the LGBT+ community alike every pride.
With that out of the way, being trans during pride month can hold a lot of meaning for a lot of people, especially given the incomparable history led by transgender women that helped to shape the LBGT+ community today. Pride itself has a long history rooted in defying gender normalities and cisgender, heteronormative ideals. That, in it itself, is a lot to be proud of- let alone each individual's transgender experience that brings more color to personal pride. It is something to celebrate, our own continuation, contribution, and resistance to oppression. For those who are out as transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, nonbinary, or identify anywhere outside of the cisgender binary, just being yourself and expressing your gender identity is a way of celebrating this. And it is momentous to do so! However, of course, it's not the only way; going to pride parades, celebrating with friends, or having your own celebration is just as good, if not more fun. Going to pride marches, participating in pride events or activities, and any form of activism are great ways of acknowledging and indulging in the history that brought us here.
Reaching out for helpPhoto by Stormseeker on Unsplash
But, of course, there is always the other side of the coin because this can be extremely difficult for some due to past experiences or traumas. And for others, this is not an option because (and unfortunately, more often than not) coming out is not a safe, viable option due to age, location, and often the stiff political climate that makes transgender people stay hidden. So while there is a lot to celebrate and be proud of, we must also be prideful for those who are unable to be. Because in addition to the rich history of activism and change, there is still an extreme deficit and predisposition to suicide and murder. According to some of the most recent research, the transgender suicide rate is up to 43%, and once every three days, a transgender person is murdered, with transgender women of color being the most likely victims.
Efforts to calculate and track transgender murder rates are often hindered by laws and data collection, therefore reported numbers may not be the best representations. Alongside these statistics come very scary legislation, such as House Bill 151 and HF 184 that allow the 'inspection' of young girls' genitals in an effort to keep transgender girls from participating in sports. There are also bathroom bills, pronoun and name bills, and medical care acts that are trying to strip away our rights. The huge dark cloud of oppression still hangs heavily over many transgender people within the United States and is much worse elsewhere in the world.
But, these are all reasons to be more prideful as well. Trans people have historically risen above and fought to be themselves- and admit the oppression, we will continue to do so unapologetically. So despite all the sorrowfully realities we face, we must take them in stride and use them for our pride, We need to keep them in mind not just to remember the reality but to be able to say, "This is what we deal with and yet, we use it to fuel our pride." Because the reality is that we are all making history just by existing and that is something to celebrate. So take pride in everything and for everyone, especially for those who may not be able to themselves. Pride month is a time to celebrate ancestors, self-discovery, friendship, and much more, so if you are able to, do so!
Activism has always and will continue to be a huge part of pride until there is equity for every minority group. So consider using these resources to continue your activism of change towards trans rights and equality. You can do so by contacting your legislators regarding your local anti-trans legislature. Or if you are able, donate to funds that support transgender persons legally! And if you're unable to do either and are in need of support, here are a few resources that may help: The Trevor project; 1-866-488-7386 Trans Life Line; 1-877-565-8860.
Author's Note: It is important to not only recognize and acknowledge the deep-rooted history that transgender individuals had in creating equal opportunities and rights for the LGBTQ+ community but also recognize the deep-seated oppression that continues to plague the transgender community today, despite best efforts towards equality, justice, and freedom. When discussing Pride Month or any celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals, give credit where credit is due.
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